A wine expert will be adding sparkle to a food festival after being honoured by an elite club of the finest champagne makers.
Pip Gale, a director of Gale’s Wine Bar in Llangollen, has become one of just 250 members of the prestigious L’Academie du Champagne (Champagne Academy).
He was enrolled after successfully completing a week-long course in France’s Champagne region.
It involved sampling more than 130 different champagnes – including one that costs £500 a bottle – and eating in Michelin starred restaurants.
According to Pip, he was honoured to be invited by the Academie to take part in the prestigious course.
He plans to use his expertise to bring some of the fine champagnes he discovered to the Hamper Llangollen food festival on Saturday and Sunday, October 19 and 20.
Hamper Llangollen was recently recognised as one of the top 10 food festivals in the UK.
Pip was one of a 16-strong hand-picked group selected by the leading Grand Marque Houses to attend the course.
The academy was founded in 1956 to promote the premium product in Britain and Ireland – the second biggest market for champagne after France.
Pip said: “It was a huge honour to be accepted by the Academie because there are only around 250 members worldwide.
“You won’t be surprised to learn that I enjoyed the experience immensely. We had amazing meals in family homes, and went to two star Michelin restaurants.
“They’ve got some eye-wateringly priced bottles – £50,000 a case for one of them.
“It was just fabulous fun, and the people that were on it were really lovely people.
“The people who run the champagne houses are clearly very passionate about their product and what it means. It was lovely.
“I always have been a pretty good advocate of champagne but what I’ve learned will help me be an even more effective ambassador.
“I had this straight view of this is how champagne was made, and I didn’t quite see the styles. I thought they were all pretty much the same, and it’s not true at all.
“We had to blind tasting exams, where you had to go and pick out the grapes and so on.
“They break the course down. So on the first day you learn about the history of champagne. The next day it was the vines and then you go on to the picking of grapes and then the wine making.
“After that you go on to the packaging and marketing aspects of the champagne business.
“It was a really hectic schedule which involved about two and a half hours on each of the subjects and then followed by an exam on each of the different aspects.
Pip can’t wait for the Hamper Llangollen where once again Gale’s will have a stand.
This year he will be showcasing some of the champagnes he discovered on his travels.
He said: “The festival is certainly a very big deal for us. Obviously we’re local to Llangollen. It is an excellent way to talk to customers and show them something really interesting.
“Llangollen is very lucky to have such wonderful events like the food festival and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. They really put the town on the map.”
This year’s festival is being supported by the rural development agency, Cadwyn Clwyd.
Cadwyn Clwyd’s contribution came via the Rural Development Fund for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Welsh Government
Hamper Llangollen Chairman Colin Loughlin is mightily impressed by Pip’s achievement.
He said: “It’s a great honour for Pip and for the food festival. Pip’s is extremely knowledgeable on the subject of wine in general and champagne in particular.
“And the poor man must have suffered. But as I say, somebody’s got to do it.” added Colin with a wry smile.
Gales, thought to be the first wine bar in Wales, was opened by Pip’s parents, Richard and Gillie Gale, in 1977 after narrowly obtaining planning permission following much public protest. It has since become a part of the town’s fabric.
Pip said: “It was a revolutionary idea in those days. We had people protesting, and we only got through by the slimmest of margins on the planning because people didn’t understand wine.
“It was a really quite tricky concept back then. All of the pubs complained and everybody gave us a month before we called time on the new venture – and now we’re the oldest licence in town.”
Colin Loughlin added this year’s festival was shaping up to be one of the best ever.
He said: “This year Graham Tinsley, the star of ITV’s Taste the Nation and a former captain of the Welsh Culinary Team, will be joined in the show kitchen at the festival by the ever popular Dai Chef.
“We have a wonderful array of fantastic food producers clustered in the area and the festival is the perfect shop window for them.
“Hamper Llangollen is celebrating its 16th anniversary this year and is firmly and rightly established as a major highlight in the UK’s culinary calendar.”
Robert Price, Cadwyn Clwyd’s agri-food project officer, said: “In addition to many favourites, we have lots of new food producers wanting to come this year.
“The location of the Pavilion is absolutely spectacular – I can’t imagine that any other food festival in the UK has a more beautiful setting.
“It’s also brilliant news for the local economy. If you buy from a local producer, all that money is recycled through the local economy and that sustains employment in our rural areas.”
For more information about Hamper Llangollen 2013 go to: www.llangollenfoodfestival.com